Staffing Management

5 retail scheduling best practices – higher sales per labor hour

By Rick Bell

Mar. 11, 2021

Effective retail scheduling isn’t easy. 

Do it well and you’ll engage your associates, reduce turnover, cut costs and build customer loyalty. But poor execution leads to lost revenue, disgruntled employees and inadequate customer service in many ways. 

With the right processes, workplace culture, and retail shift scheduling software, you’ll avoid employee scheduling conflicts and build the most accurate schedule possible. Customer loyalty rises as employee morale and productivity improves. 

If you are a manager or business owner in the retail industry, here are the five retail scheduling best practices.

1. Build predictable schedules

Inconsistent schedules are a major complaint among retail workers. More stability helps employees balance the rest of their lives and responsibilities while still getting enough hours.

Plus, a Harvard Business Review study revealed that stable employee scheduling in retail actually builds productivity and profits. Researchers discovered that sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7 percent and labor productivity increased by 5 percent.

Managers should consider the needs of their staff when building a schedule. It seems obvious but can be easier said than done, especially when managers get a handful of time-off requests. 

While the retail industry can be unpredictable, store managers should avoid scheduling retail workers on short notice. Employees need time to plan for everyday needs like transportation and child care.

Also avoid scheduling employees for “clopenings” — where an employee closes the night shift and opens the following morning. Too often employees are forced to get by on just a few hours of sleep between shifts. 

The Economic Policy Institute notes that irregular work hours, such as clopenings, lead to longer work hours. Policies that reduce or eliminate clopenings and other unstable work schedules will lead to a more productive workforce while helping to avoid unnecessary overtime. 

Perennial work-life imbalance is a proven detriment to stress and health. And in the retail industry, constant juggling of employee scheduling to maintain profits and keep labor costs to a minimum isn’t really necessary.

When employers establish predictability in work schedules, it helps develop clear career paths for employees and provide more opportunities for training. Effective scheduling also is critical so that employees feel like they are supported and part of the organization instead of just punching a time clock.

While having a predictable schedule is better than scheduling on the fly, avoid manual timekeeping methods. They can be manipulated by employees to steal time and also are subject to wage-theft abuse by employers. 

Using automated scheduling software is a great way to make it easier, more cost-efficient and less prone to fraud for a manager to handle this process. Managers can create and share work schedules for all employees to see on their phones, as well as send automated reminders to them before each shift.

schedule template, retail, restaurant employees

Once a workable shift calendar is established, stick to it. And give employees plenty of notice if you plan to change what the average shift looks like.

2. Adhere to predictive scheduling laws

Is your business in a jurisdiction that already has or will have predictive scheduling or fair workweek laws?

Employee scheduling laws vary by city or state, but they generally include four common provisions, according to the National Retail Federation. They are: 

  • Advanced posting of schedules.
  • Employer penalties for unexpected schedule changes.
  • Record-keeping requirements for employers. 
  • Prohibitions on requiring employees to find replacements for scheduled shifts if they are unable to work.

Predictive scheduling dictates advanced scheduling notice. In general, most require two weeks notice, but it can be more. 

Violation costs can add up quickly. New York City, for example, requires retail employers to pay $500 or damages (whichever is greater) for on-call shifts or shift changes with less than 72 hours’ notice, according to the National Law Review.

If you’re running a retail outlet in a city that isn’t yet affected, don’t wait for it to become law. Fair workweek laws will continue to spread across the United States to protect shift workers, so stay ahead of the game by starting to make changes in your organization now. 

Simplified and automated solutions such as’s scheduling software assures that you’ll avoid costly infractions and comply with federal, state, and local labor regulations. You’ll know exactly where you stand with predictive scheduling and fair workweek laws. 

3. Allow employees to swap shifts

Most retailers have a large number of part-time staff. A Korn Ferry survey found that of all retail positions, part-time hourly store employees have the highest turnover rate, with 76 percent average turnover in 2019. 

While a part-time workforce is a necessity, it also presents volatility in your retail scheduling. Store managers spend a lot of time sorting and tracking employee time-off or shift cancellation requests. Last-minute scheduling changes also means managers spend valuable time off the floor to find a replacement.

A well-designed shift swapping policy can work for both sides and ensure that both the retailer and employees eliminate guesswork and get the staff scheduling they need.

Rather than bog down managers with scheduling headaches and leave employees to guess whether their shift is covered, allow your staff to swap shifts through an automated scheduling solution. 

Any employee can request a shift swap in the mobile app. Assuming their manager approves the request, employees available and qualified for that shift will get notifications on their phones. Any of them can indicate in the app that they’d like to swap. When a manager approves the swap, the system automatically updates schedules, which everyone can see in the app.

retail employees scheduling

4. Improve clarity around retail employees’ schedules

Retail employee schedules have been written out on paper or logged in an Excel spreadsheet for decades. It may be a tried-and-true method for some business owners but the only absolute tradition is that manual scheduling leads to confusion.

With pen-and-paper employee schedules, employees often are unaware of last-minute changes. There is no visibility since managers only post the schedules in a break room or near a time clock.

As you can imagine, there are unintended time and attendance violations that managers, HR and payroll must investigate and address. The lack of transparency in scheduling can also lead to disengaged employees who may think managers have a hidden agenda and that favoritism plays into their shift scheduling process.

Knowing whether you’re overstaffed or understaffed and how resources are being managed is at best an educated guess and at worst a crapshoot.

An automated scheduling solution for retailers puts schedules online and visible for all to see. 

workforce software, restaurant, retail employees scheduling

There’s no need for last-minute phone calls or texts to see who is scheduled for that day’s shift. Managers can easily see who’s coming in, what time they’re scheduled to start and which location they’ll be at all from their phone.

With’s workforce app, retail managers keep lines of communication open with all of their full-time and part-time employees. Seeking employee input when possible can help them feel like they have a little more control over their schedules. 

“We are seeing much more communication coming from employers, and what [employers] are sharing with us is employees like it,” said David Kopsch, principal consultant at Mercer in a June 2020 story posted to “They like this high level of communication. They like the engagement and the concern and empathy that employers are demonstrating.”

5. Assess staffing needs to avoid overtime

Labor forecasting is a must when scheduling your retail workforce. 

Predicting customer demand peaks and valleys to plan ideal staffing levels shouldn’t be left to chance or a manager’s gut instinct.

You may read suggestions that you determine the lowest number of staff required to run your store. “Begin with a bare-bones number and build from there,” some expert may tell you. That is a fool’s errand and completely unnecessary when you use effective labor forecasting software and implement an automated scheduling solution.

According to the Harvard Business Review study, “Practices such as having barebones staff in stores and unstable scheduling (schedules that vary on a day-to-day basis) have flourished in the guise of enabling greater profits for retailers. 

“In study after study for over a decade, operations researchers have found that retailers understaff during peak hours. Increasing staffing, they found, could increase sales and profits. And yet this message on the costs of lean scheduling fell on deaf ears.”

Overstaffing and understaffing can be dangerous for any retailer, which typically runs on small profit margins and must monitor the company’s labor budget. A staffing decision that smartly cuts labor costs while maintaining superior customer service benefits your bottom line.

Varying the types of employees that you schedule helps keep your full-time employees from accumulating overtime hours that can drive labor costs up. And allowing part-time employees to work alongside experienced full-timers provides valuable on-the-job training that they can’t get anywhere else. 

The Live Wage Tracker allows managers to adjust staffing levels to optimize profits. 

live wage tracker, software, restaurant , retail employees

Building retail schedules every week that can change at a moment’s notice is a constant challenge. But with retail scheduling best practices and implementing automated retail scheduling software, you can save time, reduce turnover, build employee morale and cut costs. Book your demo today.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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